Tuesday, 28 October 2014

A briefing from the Peatland Conference 2014

A grip block in operation 
This briefing will be presented at the Moorland Forum meeting on 31 October 2014

The conference was held in Inverness, 20-22 October 2014, and was the sixth in an annual series of conferences organised by the IUCN UK Peatland Programme the main funder of this year's conference was the Peatland Action project.This briefing provides some highlights for the information of Moorland Forum members.

The conference is very academic in nature, and does not attract many other stakeholders. Arguably, it is not a format that will appeal to the owners and managers of land, and rather than adapt the format for future conferences, it would be better to develop an alternative way to engage with other interest groups.

The proposal to establish a form of demonstration sites has been proposed by the Peatland Steering Group, and this is an issue that was returned to several times during the presentations given as part of the conference. On behalf of the Moorland Forum, I have been asked to look at the options and to consider how a proposal could be prepared.

Our knowledge of peatlands has come on in leaps and bounds in recent years, and the IUCN programme has been at the heart of this development. There are many initiatives and to anyone not involved with peatland issues on a day-to-day basis, the different initiatives can become rather confusing. We will be hearing about the National Peatland Plan, the Peatland Code and Peatland Action during the meeting on 31 October, but I think it will be an important part of the National Peatland Plan to establish a Peatland Group that will bring all the different threads together.

All this increasing knowledge will be of little value until we can develop a delivery structure to apply the knowledge for the benefit of peatland. Peatland Action has achieved great things in a very short space of time, but the money dries up to a large extent, next year, and thereafter it will not be to make progress by providing large grants to NGOs and agencies. More work will need to be done with the private owners and managers of peatland and this is a change we need to start planning for. I believe that the demonstration site concept is the best way to provide this engagement in different parts of Scotland, while providing a platform for applied research that will further increase our knowledge.

I believe that this is an involved, but important, topic, that the Forum should maintain close contact with.

Muirburn on Deep Peat: a view from England

Bog-Athon in progress
This briefing will be presented to Moorland Forum members on 31 October 2014.

Burning on deep peat has been a topic that has attracted a lot of activity in England during 2014. As the chairman of the Best Practice Burning Group, I was involved in back-to-back visits to three moors in northern England.

The flurry of activity was sparked off by the Evidence to Advice phase of Natural England’s Upland Evidence Review. As a way to ease the tensions coming out of this process, and to allow Natural England to make progress with their review, what has become known as the bog-athon was set up. A working group from the main Burning Group visited three areas of deep peat in Northern England on successive days. This was pretty intensive, but the intensity allowed participants to drill down into areas of discussion that had eluded us at other times.

I was joined on the working group by representatives from Natural England, RSPB, Moorland Association, Yorkshire Water and a landowner / farmer. In addition, the gamekeepers, landowners and NE Area Staff with an interest in the moor joined each visit to provide local input. The visits took place on Raby Estate, Upper Teesdale; Keighley Moor, Yorkshire; and the High Peak in the Peak District. These moors represented a good range of habitats and management objectives that allowed the working group to start to develop an approach that would work to deliver multiple objectives, if applied to other peatland.

I was heartened by the amount of consensus that came out of this process and included the following points:
  • There should be no intention by Natural England to ban burning on deep peat; burning should continue to be available as an important tool.
  • There is a need to adapt the way that burning on deep peat is approached; more sensitive use of fire could be beneficial to all interests.
  • More sphagnum moss should be encouraged.
  • Landowners and managers have the ability to innovate and produce the desired outcomes. 
  • Further discussion needs to look forward; chewing over old bones will not be productive.
This is all a big improvement from the loggerheads position that had been reached within the burning group.  The problems have not gone away but considerable progress was made through establishing dialogue. The approach may be something to consider in Scotland.

Bracken Control - Briefing

Aerial application in progress
This briefing will be presented to the Moorland Forum during the meeting on 31 October.

Following the ending of the approval to use Asulam for bracken control on 31 December 2012, arrangements have been put in place each year to allow asulam to be available for bracken control under the terms of an Emergency Authorisation (EA) granted by the Chemicals Regulation Directorate of the Health & Safety Executive (CRD).

A Bracken Control Group was established in 2012 to promote the control of bracken by any means, but also to oversee the application for an EA. The Heather Trust coordinates this Group. The continued availability of Asulam for bracken control cannot be guaranteed, but the Bracken Control Group is working with all parts of the bracken control community to promote the importance of being able to control this invasive species.

The long-term aim is to achieve the registration of Asulam for bracken control under the latest EU regulations. Registration is an expensive process that requires an investment of many £100,000s, and it takes a long time. The application has been submitted, but a response from the EU is not expected until December 2016. Therefore, to maintain the availability of asulam, EAs will be required up to and including 2017. To date, no concerns have been expressed by the regulators to approving this number of authorisations.

As part of the review of asulam carried out by CRD, the previous uses of asulam were investigated. It had been common practice to use small doses of asulam at high concentrations for follow-up treatment, and this could be applied by a spot gun or even a knapsack sprayer. However, there was not enough data available to prove that this approach did not exceed operator exposure thresholds. Also, it became apparent that some of the recognised asulam application techniques, such as the use of a drift sprayer, or a weed-wiper had not been fully assessed. As a result of this, approval for follow-up treatment under the EAs has only been given for hand-held equipment when using Asulam at low concentrations, and the two application techniques have not been included in the EA approvals. The Bracken Control Group is working with the industry to investigate better methods for follow-up treatment that could be approved by CRD.

The Bracken Control Group has a website (www.brackencontrol.co.uk) that provides more detail of the current state of bracken control. A newsletter is published, which has a sign up option for anyone wanting to know more about any developments that affect bracken control. The EA for 2015 has been applied for, and it is hoped to be able to announce the result of the application soon.

Monday, 27 October 2014

Heather Beetle Briefing

Adult heather beetle
This briefing will be presented at the Moorland Forum meeting on 31 October 2014.

In response to the large amount of concern about the threat that heather beetle could pose to the continuation of heather cover, the Heather Trust set up a UK-wide survey of heather beetle outbreaks in 2006 and has run this survey from its own resources, ever since.  It cannot be a complete record, but the survey is providing an indication of the geographical range and extent of heather beetle damage.
There remains a widely held belief that heather beetle is a self-correcting problem. This can be the case when there is a minor outbreak, in young heather, on dry heath, where there is little competition from other species. Where this is not the case, the Trust believes that a heather beetle attack can result in permanent vegetation change to a monoculture of coarse grasses.

Members of the Moorland Forum members are encouraged to publicise concerns about heather beetle and to promote the heather beetle survey to anyone with an interest in heather moorland, even if only as a visitor.  Without a record of the impact of heather beetle, it is very difficult to build a case for the research that is required to improve our understanding of the beetle. The aim is to improve the knowledge of the beetle to a point where it would be possible to start to predict when an outbreak will take place and advise on how to avoid it, or at least minimise its impact.
As a separate issue, The Heather Trust is investigating the best way to regenerate heather cover after a beetle attack. The Trust is running trials on Langholm Moor and on two moors in the Peak District. In all these areas, heather beetle extensively damaged the heather during an attack before the restoration trial started. Different restoration techniques have been applied to different plots: cutting, burning and spray-burn-reseed; a fourth plot has had not treatment and is acting as a control. The Langholm project will report in 2015 and the Peak District in 2018. The aim of this work is to quantify the benefits of different approaches to restoration on different types of heather moorland.

The Priority Issue section of the Heather Trust's web site contains more information and the Heather Beetle Survey form can be downloaded.